CLARKSVILLE — A state committee considering the designation of a segment of Ind. 265 a scenic byway was met with opposition Friday, leading to the tabling of the matter until more public input can be heard.
The Indiana Scenic Byway Committee met in the auditorium of the Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center to consider an application to change the classification of a highway, the first time since the committee has had the chance to do so since the age of typewriters. Usually the committee meets only to fix mistakes, such as when a sign is placed in the wrong place, committee member Jay Mitchell said.
The segment being considered links the Indiana side of the Lewis and Clark Bridge to the Ind. 62 and Ind. 265 exchange and would join the Ohio River Scenic Byway, which stretches 302 miles from eastern Ohio to southern Illinois.
A COMMITTEE CONSIDERS
According to Mitchell, the Kentuckiana Regional Planning and Development Agency (KIPDA) submitted the application for the highway to receive the designation. If it were to be changed, not much would be modified when it comes to the highway itself. The most notable difference would be a restriction on billboards. The Indiana Department of Transportation has already issued six permits for billboards, three of which are already fully functional. If the remaining three are not completed if/when the highway is designated as a scenic byway, they cannot be completed, Mitchell said.
To weigh the merits of designating a scenic byway, there are multiple criteria the committee uses, but the most important is the first on the application, according to another member, Amy Marisavljevic.
“The highway must possess at least one of six intrinsic qualities which include scenic, natural, historic, park, cultural, archaeological or recreational. That’s the core of why it’s being a byway,” she said. Other standards the applicant must establish include its plan to protect the byway, offer tourism related amenities and facilities.
When it came fulfilling that first and crucial requirement, Marisavljevic highlighted, the application referenced the vast Charlestown State Park and historic limestone kilns in Utica township.
“[A byway designation] protects the beautiful, spectacular, grand entrance that comes into Southern Indiana — that’s the main purpose of the scenic byway, is to protect the vistas. You come across the bridge and look up out the river and you see the state park and the ridges and the wooded areas,” Jerry Acy, executive director of River Ridge, said following the meeting.
According to Rob Waiz, economic and redevelopment director for Jeffersonville, the city has worked closely with INDOT to “make sure that we improved that section of the roadway.”
Waiz explained over the last four years or more, the city worked to plant trees and shrubs, put in place berms and ensure the bridge had a “Cathedral-style look” all to make sure the entrance to Jeffersonville and Indiana as a whole was attractive.
“There was a lot of time that was put in place between the city and INDOT to look the way it does,” he said.
Though the committee said it received many letters in favor of the designation, from One Southern Indiana to state senators, there were some at the meeting who spoke against it.
Hank Dorman, president of the Utica Economic Development Board, said even though the byway would directly affect Utica, town leaders were left out of the discussion entirely.
“We weren’t notified, we weren’t given any consideration … we just feel like you guys ought to take that into consideration because we feel like we should be given the opportunity to be involved in this destination,” he said. “This has all come really, really fast as far as the growth of the community and the interstate and the [Lewis and Clark] Bridge and we haven’t really had the opportunity to be involved with KIPDA. This is something that we feel like Utica should be involved with. We should have the opportunity to have our input.”
In an interview following the meeting Dorman said he’s not necessarily against the conversion because he didn’t know the details of it or what it would “mean for Utica” because he was left out of those conversations.
A representative of KIPDA was not at the meeting to clarify if it attempted to involve Utica officials in the process and did not return calls from the News and Tribune as of press time.
Local attorney Mike Maschmeyer, who identified himself as a representative of a number of property owners in the proposed corridor, questioned the legitimacy of the board and whether property owners were given due process when it came to “protecting their property interests.”
“When I looked for a statute that authorizes the Indiana Scenic Byway Committee, I couldn’t find one. There isn’t one … there has to be an enabling statute and there hasn’t been an enabling statute, there aren’t any statutes that deal with number of people on the committee, whether you’re paid or unpaid, what your duties and responsibilities are," Maschmeyer said during the meeting. "I think all that has to occur first before the committee is in a position to act on recommendations or applications [for byway designations] that come before it.”
Afterward, he explained that there is nothing on the state website regarding the committee, the criteria for a scenic byway or the application process.
During the meeting Marisavljevic explained the committee was formed as a result of a memorandum of understanding between INDOT, the Indiana Department of Tourismand the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. After Maschmeyer raised his concerns during the meeting about the lack of state statute, she clarified that each member was employed by the state and therefore was a member of the executive branch of the government.
Maschmeyer later said he respectfully disagreed with her response, saying “our legislature has not acted, not established rules and regulations of a Scenic Byway Committee and the problem is you can’t let these types of interagency groups take people’s rights away without due process law. I represent a number of property owners who have property interests in that corridor who would lose property interests."
He declined to specify further what those property interests are.
The committee voted 4-0 to table the matter, with one member absent from the meeting and vote. Mitchell noted he thought there should be more time for public input, whether that be through a public hearing or inviting letters on the matter. The committee only meets when it is triggered, so no public hearing is scheduled, but member Noelle Szyalyk said they will be working "diligently" to get the matter resolved.